April 30th, 2015

Meet Michelle Rawlings, her studio is situated in a cozy blue house in an industrial part of Dallas, Texas. Michelle’s art is personal and boundary-breaking, she takes images and themes that we scroll through and are inundated with on a daily basis, elevating them to the forefront of our consciousness. This former RISD grad currently has a show open in Houston at the Hello Project Gallery and is set to open a show in Warsaw, Poland this summer. 

1. What motifs do you find yourself currently exploring?

I’ve always been interested in imagery I find in magazines and sometimes online and I’ve never really been interested in taking my own pictures. Certain constants though are portraits of various people or images that have to do with really basic things like color, texture, and the history of painting. I really like images that look child-like, or images that are about a perversion or troublesome issue that has been diluted and accepted into society in some way. Right now, to me, my paintings feel like an Instagram feed, or a diary.

2. In our conversation you told me that one of your favorite things is to create work that surprises people closest to you, things they wouldn’t necessarily think you would create, when was the last time this happened?

I’ve been working with some imagery that had its origin in some glitches from my computer, and I think my friends were surprised by that.

3. Right now you have a show at the Hello Project Gallery in Houston, titled Impressionist Paintings depicting a series of digital glitches. Can you tell us how a bit about these came about?

Yeah so these were from a time when I was working on a PDF of my paintings on an old laptop and the images wouldn't load and somehow the glitches were combinations of multiple pages of my paintings together. So in one image you have all of these colors and bits of pieces of different paintings combined. It's also the digital patterns obviously but I think that they are made up of these modernist colors in my paintings rather than something else makes them feel different.

4. A lot of your canvases are very specific dimensions, why is this significant?

Because I am interested in found imagery, it is really important to me to duplicate the feeling of the image in terms of like what it’s original context might have been. For instance, if it’s square, it might have been from Instagram. Those type of dimensions are really important to me. I have this feel for how big an image should be. Every canvas is a different size even if they are in the same range they all retain the dimensions of the original image. Each painting I do is made in a completely different way. 

5. You have created a series of textured and tonal canvases, what are the reference points for these?

Yeah these small monochrome paintings serve the purpose of just not having to be images at all. Sometimes I see a color that seems strange to me- These are the notations for that, a way to simply record a color within the larger body of images. 

6. How has the Internet and the seemingly infinite plethora of visual information influenced your practice?

I can’t say its influenced my practice because I just feel like it is my practice. I feel like that is how I give myself the liberty to do what I do and just feel like everything is mine, everything belongs to me. I have absolutely no ethical qualms with appropriating anything. I don’t even think of legal things because I believe an artist should be able to use whatever he or she needs to, so just out of principal I don’t let myself become inhibited by some vague fear or obligation. I am an artist, I can do whatever I want. There is a feeling of my practice being more about a collection of imagery that becomes personal to me, and becomes expressive through my appropriation of it. People today don’t use appropriation in the same way as when that term was first around: it’s not about being un-expressive and critical and subversive. Appropriation has this hopeful, positive feeling now- it feels like it’s about a longing for originality and subjective expression.

7. Having spent time in both New York and Dallas how do you see both places in the context of your work?

Yeah well I don’t know actually that I see any places in my work. I spend time in my head haha so I feel like it doesn’t really matter where I physically live. :) I really miss NY just because of the art, but I am able to get more work done here.

8. Your work has a very personal and intimate nature about itself, there is something refreshing yet relatable about what you are exploring. It references the Internet, but is definitely not net art in the way we talk about it. How would you describe your style?

I don’t really associate my practice with ‘net art’ because it’s a little more broad than that. It's both about images and physical objects. I use both appropriated imagery and ‘my own’ imagery interchangeably. I am seeking a subjective personal feeling, and I am really into the preciousness of the original object, I see that as a positive… so that complicates things. I’m not really using technology or the internet self-consciously as a subject, or overtly as a way present or structure my practice. However, my blog is the ideal way in my opinion for people to interact with my work, even though my work is mostly about these singular objects. What I am presenting in my practice is an evolution, and a journey, so the stream matters to me. I’m still trying to make my website into what I want it to be and I’m struggling. I keep changing my mind constantly about what my works is, and I’ve never known how to categorize my work so I just have a blog. I can accept my constant shifts better on those terms- in the sense of it feeling like a diary: no big deal my mood and objectives just changed that’s ok. 

…. In terms of content, I think the internet opens up my practice to be something much bigger and I can keep hunting for images endlessly and I don’t have to be limited to published material. I don’t have to go to a library or used book store or a flea market or something. Sometimes though, the colors of images when they have been printed really matters to me, things feel different on a screen and I relate to printed material because it comes with a particular set of signifiers. You are also dealing with the original context that the image was found in which is meaningful, and on the internet it has already been separated from that, and you get the photographed or scanned version of the image, which is potentially interesting in itself, but annoying in the sense that I am dependent on someone else. But the internet just opens me up to things I couldn’t have had access to before, and it feels limitless. I remember when I was a teenager feeling frustrated that all I had were magazines so all I had were these pictures of young pretty women mostly white wearing fashionable clothes, sometimes you would find the occasional painting or like a ‘street shot’ or something. Now I can go into worlds that are more diverse and wonderful.

9. Is there a particular reason that you have been painting a lot of classic female figures/paintings?

I am always interested in images that relate to women. Even if it is a man or something I feel like he is more vulnerable and feminine in my hands. I think gender is fluid and sexuality is fluid so it’s not like I am saying my practice is just about women, but I think I am particularly empathetic to certain images and that that is because I grew up, like I said, with magazines and they are full of images of heteronormative sexualized girls.

10. Can you tell us about your show that’s opening in Warsaw in June?

I am taking over all my work myself in luggage so it will be a series of small paintings on the wall which is my ideal anyway. It’s just a continuation of the interests I have.

11. You have shot a number of short films. What is the newest one you are working on?

I have been wanting to make this film that I really can’t describe, all I can say is that it will be a mix of found footage, super8 film, digital animation, and hand drawn animation, it’s just going to be crazy I hope.